Issue: July-September 2010
Bandworld Magazine Page


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by M. Max McKee  Bio


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Creating an ABC or an NBC network?

In November 1987 at the Ninth Annual Western International Band Clinic, Tim Lautzenheiser and I met for a few minutes to discuss the idea of a new summer program for band directors. By this time, our Band Director Prep sequence at Southern Oregon University had 15 students in it and we saw how all of those students could be helped in very special ways if they became the operational staff for summer workshops. Tim and I left the very short meeting with the idea that we needed to come up with a name. "I'll send you a note with my thoughts," he said. "Ditto," I replied and we went off to enjoy aThankgiving turkey.

A week later an envelope from Tim that had obviously crossed in the mail with my idea of "The National Band College" arrived in Ashland. In it, Tim suggested, "Why don't we call it The American Band College?" It was instantly obvious to me that either famous acronym could work, but connecting ABC to a child's building block and the idea of "learning your ABCs" was definitely the way to go.

Over the next year as I started a year-long sabbatical leave, I used that time to create not only a scheme for special summer workshops (to begin in June 1989) but also fabricated a 4-year undergraduate curriculum covering 40 areas of learning for the development of band directors. For each year of study there needed to be a logic to what is studied when, so first year students learned overtone series concepts related to fingerings, embouchures (clarinet and trumpet), snare technique, nomenclature and standard band literature on a 90-minute cassette (one of twelve). Each of those students were provided with a clarinet, a trumpet and a snare drum for the entire year and were charged with learning a grade 2 solo while developing teaching skills to do start-up lessons on each of the instruments by the end of the year.

During the ABC year, the 4 classes (representing freshman, sophomore, junior and senior students) met separately twice a week to delve into their 10 areas of learning via lecture sessions. Long-time teachers and specialists on each instrument were brought in ( SOU faculty, the active and retired band director ranks) to meet with the various classes. On Fridays, all four classes plus 20 or more students from local middle schools formed a band in which everyone played secondary instruments. Third and fourth year students conducted so that by the end of the term, ABC could present a convocation hour at the University to perform as a band or in small ensembles.

We were lucky to have three of the major instrument manufacturers (Conn-Selmer, Yamaha and Ludwig) provide us with over 100 instruments that students could borrow for the year to learn flute, trombone and timpani, then saxophone, horn and percussion toys and finally oboe, bassoon, tuba and drum set.

Along with all of this, we soon started development of a game called "The ABC Challenge." It became instantly obvious to me that we needed tools that would allow the students to learn through in-class game-playing. By first developing an extensive database of questions and coupling that with audio and video samples (not yet on computer where memory and storage were still in their infancy), we created a game board that was similar to television's Jeopardy but had categories limited to each of the classes. When a student chose from a category in his or her level, a correct answer resulted in earning Monopoly money. If the student gave the wrong answer, then students from other levels were allowed to attempt the answer. ABC Challenge involved team play by class and resulted in the winning a major prize for the class with the greatest dollar earnings. It became very popular and very competitive as the years went by.

Little did we know that less than 15 years later a 100% computer/internet based system called Ultimate Pursuit would serve as the study, gaming and testing device for over 200 active masters candidates in the American Band College program. In the meantime, the undergraduate ABC program continued to develop and flourish as we prepared for the Summer 1989 American Band College program for band directors. That June a grand total of 26 directors joined us for the first summer, which included three 6-day sessions featuring 36 world-class clinicians and conductors. By complementing the band with undergrad ABCers as well as community musicians from the Rogue Valley (some 50 players in all), we enjoyed great success in three concerts. Guest conductor for the July 4th concert in 1989 was Arnald Gabriel, USAF Band Commander retired. He returned in 2011 with an all-director, master's candidate band of more than 200 musicians!

Next time: WIBC Honor Band Development



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